Waymo wants you to know its autonomous driver recognizes children and cyclists

Self-driving car company Waymo published the first in a series of public-assurance promotions that depict safe behavior of Waymo-enabled autonomous vehicles. The initial release demonstrates through videos how the Waymo driver — which refers to the technology, not a human — recognizes and responds to two of the most vulnerable “objects” on the road: school children and cyclists.

“Safely sharing the road is an important part of driving,” Waymo Chief Safety Officer Deborah Hersman wrote in Medium, “and the Waymo driver tirelessly scans for objects around the vehicle  —  including pedestrians, cyclists, vehicles, road workers, animals, and obstructions  —  and then predicts their future movements based on information such as speed, trajectory, and road context.”

Waymo has a collection of thousands of videos that show its technology reacting to complex circumstances on the road. The videos draw from Waymo’s 10 million miles of real road driving and 7 billion miles in simulation.

Waymo has racked up more vehicle self-driving miles than any other company. In California’s Autonomous Vehicle Disengagement Reports of 2018, Waymo not only led all other companies in total miles driven in the state but also turned in the best performance, as measured by disengagements — instances when the autonomous system required the human autonomous vehicle test driver to take immediate manual control. The Waymo driver went 11,017 miles between disengagements while the second place performer, GM’s Cruise technology, reported disengagement every 5,205 miles. Most companies in the California report traveled much shorter distances between times when the human had to take over. Apple’s self-driving testers, for example, disengaged every 1.1 miles.

Waymo’s video of a self-driving car encountering a crowded school crossing uses a split screen to show the scene on the right side with a crossing guard, children in a crosswalk, other humans in sight (yellow boxes), parked cars (fuchsia), and moving vehicles (green).

Waymo’s second video demonstrates the autonomous driver’s ability to predict a cyclist’s behavior. In the clip, the car predicts the cyclist will move into the car’s driving lane to pass a parked trailer.

Citing the statistic that almost 50,000 cyclists are hurt on U.S. roads each year, Hersman explains that the Waymo drive is trained to drive defensively in common cyclist collision scenarios.

“As we work to build the world’s most experienced driver, we’re putting considerable thought and engineering into ensuring our vehicles can understand cyclists’ unique behavior and are ready to act with their safety and protection top of mind,” Hersman wrote. The release also includes a link to Waymo’s safety report, On the Road to Fully Self-Driving.

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